JESUS SAID: – ASK AND IT WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU; SEEK AND YOU WILL FIND; KNOCK AND THE DOOR WILL BE OPENED TO YOU. (Matthew 7: 7)
Welcome to our Sunday morning web-worship!
AND HEZEKIAH PRAYED TO THE LORD: – “… O LORD…YOU ALONE ARE GOD OVER ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE EARTH…HEAR…SEE…LISTEN…O LORD OUR GOD, DELIVER US…SO THAT ALL KINGDOMS ON EARTH MAY KNOW THAT YOU ALONE, O LORD, ARE GOD”. (2 KINGS 19: 14 – 19)
TO SOME WHO WERE CONFIDENT OF THEIR OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS AND LOOKED DOWN ON EVERYBODY ELSE, JESUS TOLD THIS PARABLE: “TWO MEN WENT UP TO THE TEMPLE TO PRAY, ONE A PHARISEE AND THE OTHER A TAX COLLECTOR. THE PHARISEE STOOD UP AND PRAYED ABOUT HIMSELF: “GOD, I THANK YOU THAT I AM NOT LIKE OTHER MEN – ROBBERS, EVILDOERS, ADULTERERS – OR EVEN LIKE THIS TAX COLLECTOR. I FAST TWICE A WEEK AND GIVE A TENTH OF ALL I GET. “BUT THE TAX COLLECTOR STOOD AT A DISTANCE. HE WOULD NOT EVEN LOOK UP TO HEAVEN, BUT BEAT HIS BREAST AND SAID, “GOD, HAVE MERCY ON ME, A SINNER”. I TELL YOU THAT THIS MAN, RATHER THAN THE OTHER, WENT HOME JUSTIFIED BEFORE GOD. FOR EVERYONE WHO EXALTS HIMSELF WILL BE HUMBLED, AND HE WHO HUMBLES HIMSELF WILL BE EXALTED.” (LUKE 18: 9 – 14)
If we are not careful, fear can become more than just a passing emotion. It can grip our lives and take control of our thoughts and even cause us to not trust God. In this prolonged Pandemic period we continually need to be reminded to bring our prayers in the right way to the Lord, so He can calm our hearts, reveal His will and be glorified as He works in our lives.
Besides King David, King Hezekiah was the most godly and righteous king of Judah (See: 2 Kings, Chapters 16 -20). But he did not have an easy life by any means. Instead, he was the target of an attack by Sennacherib king of Assyria. Assyria was a much more powerful nation, but it was Hezekiah’s prayer – 2 Kings 19: 14-19 – that saved them from their enemies. Helplessness became prayer the moment he turned to the Lord and spoke confidently about his need (Disclosure, v.14). Hezekiah turned to a God of intense presence, sovereign sway, and enormous power, one Who is accessible, almighty, and able (Invocation, v.15). Hezekiah confessed the truth and so edged close to hope (Complaint, verses 16-18). His plea is focused on his trouble and God’s Glory, and when we are concerned with God’s Glory, we are to be heard (Supplication, v.19). Since those ancient times, formal prayers mostly follow this pattern of composition, with Praise and Glorification added later. It is so easy to get caught up in just giving God an itemized list of requests but as we see, Hezekiah’s ultimate goal was that everyone would see the hand of God at work and that God alone would be always glorified.
In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector, it was the spirituality of prayer that caused problems for the audience. The Pharisees were some of the most respected and devout men. They prayed at set times several times a day, fasted not just occasionally but twice a week, were devoted to their families, and because of their generous donations well respected in the community. The Pharisee is a tragic figure in Jesus’ parable because he thought he could make God indebted to him and force God to do more for him in return. In his prayer, he talks about himself and what he has done to pile up good works before God. Instead of looking through a window that opens onto God, he looks into a mirror and sees only a reflection of himself. He was not guilty of any gross sin, but he was guilty of the most basic sin, which is pride. He says, he was not like the Tax-collector or other sinners, but he was also not much like God. He probably went up to the temple on a special day, maybe the Day of Atonement, but he remained true to his name, Pharisee meaning “the separated one”. As he put such distance between himself and the Tax-collector, he separated himself from God as well. To be religiously “clean” for him meant far more than to be forgiven by God. We all need to open ourselves to God to be cleansed by God’s forgiving grace.
Look at the Tax-collector’s prayer. The tax collectors were not well-liked people. They were considered by many Jews as the chief sinners. They were working for the Roman government by collecting taxes from their own people and skimmed off the top whatever they could for themselves. To the Jewish people they were traitors and seen as unclean because of their dealings with the Romans. No Jew would ever enter into their home. But the Tax-collector lifted his prayer to God and confessed his sin. He was deeply convicted of his sin. He realized that he had hurt people, robbed them, and taken advantage of them. Probably as the Atoning Sacrifice was being made, he followed the liturgical prescription of the Temple, and “beating his breast” he cried out the Atonement-formula: “God have mercy on me, a sinner!” In fact, this is what the Tax-collector said: “Lord, let this act of atonement apply to me. Let me be forgiven”.
Jesus said that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. The Tax-collector was aware that he was a sinner, and he pleaded for God’s mercy. His broken heart acknowledged his absolute dependence on God and not on his own works. He depended utterly – like King Hezekiah – on God’s atonement and grace. The Tax-collector was a sinner who found forgiveness from God. He humbled himself and became fully dependent on God’s mercy. And all he was asking, seeking and knocking for, was awarded to him.
The Church was founded not for the upright or the holy; it is a place for sinners and the needy. A living community of those who are ready to acknowledge their unworthiness as well as their spiritual and physical dependence on a merciful and loving Almighty. Then the Spirit will help us to be found by God’s Grace as we meet Jesus Christ, the Anointed Saviour. The Pharisee probably went home feeling that he was close to God. But he was wrong. The Tax-collector may have gone home feeling that he was a long way from God. Yet he was the one who was forgiven and justified. Faith is not just a matter of pious feelings and acts, but deep and humble prayers, relying upon God’s grace and salvation in Christ rather than on human emotions. We must believe that God will work things out for our good and His Glory and let Him remove all our sin and fear, making room for His love and grace through Jesus Christ our Lord.
LET US PRAY:
Living and loving God, teach us that staying in touch with You is all about a living relationship, making time to share every aspect of our lives, from triumphs to tribulations, agony to ecstasy, each shared simply, but faithfully and humbled, in the knowledge that they matter to you, because we matter. Teach us that not everything comes gift-wrapped, that some things in life must be worked for. Remind us then, when prayers seem unanswered and hopes are unrealised, that instead of being Your fault it might be ours, the fulfilment of our requests lying not in the boasting about our achievements but coming to You in humility. We don’t know how prayer works, how You hear or speak, how our messages can possibly get through, yet, like generations before us, we have heard Your voice and sensed Your presence, discovering for ourselves that You listen and respond. Lord of all, when we call to You, yet nothing seems to happen, give us patience and wisdom to trust in Your timing rather than our own. You have given us prayer so that we can share our needs, seek Your help and hear your voice. We pray, as we have prayed so very often in the past months, for all people struggling with Covid-19. We ask You to heal the sick, comfort those who mourn, and be with the lonely. We bring before You our loved ones, close to us or far away, our friends and neighbours and the community we live in. Bless Your Christian Church Universal in all its branches, our Church of Scotland in all its Presbyteries and congregations. We pray for all members of our congregation, our Christian sisters and brothers in Portree, in the Isle of Skye, Scotland, Britain and in the whole world. Bless, Lord, all people of other faiths or none, and especially black people, and also those of all other colours. Be and remain for all of us our Almighty Provider and Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
THE LORD’S PRAYER: Our Father, who art in heaven..
What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear! What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer! O, what peace we often forfeit, O, what needless pain we bear, all because we do not carry everything to God in prayer!
Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere? We should never be discouraged: take it to the Lord in prayer! Can we find a friend so faithful, who will all our sorrows share? Jesus knows our every weakness – take it to the Lord in prayer!
Are we weak and heavy-laden, cumbered with a load of care? Precious Saviour still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer! Do thy friends despise, forsake thee? Take it to the Lord in prayer! In His arms He’ll take and shield thee, thou wilt find a solace there.
THE LORD IS THE STRENGTH OF HIS PEOPLE, A FORTRESS OF SALVATION FOR HIS ANOINTED ONE. SAVE YOUR PEOPLE AND BLESS YOUR INHERITANCE; BE THEIR SHEPHERD AND CARRY THEM FOR EVER. (Psalm 28: 8-9)
Sandor, your Minister.
My read, meditate and pray message for this week will be available on Monday morning in Minister’s Messages